Monday, January 7, 2013

History of Opium and Tincture of Laudanum

History of Opium and Tincture of Laudanum 

by Suzi Love.

Opium has a long history of use, spread across many countries.

 Long before China supplied the West with opium, Turkey was providing coffee, tulips, and opium, which is said to have been used for recreational purposes from the 14th century onwards in Muslim societies. 

Opium eaters were said to gain ecstasy, bliss and voluptuousness, and soldiers to gain courage.
Opium poppies
Raw Opium

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, travelers, diplomats, historians, and religious scholars reported that Anatolian opium was eaten in Constantinople and throughout the Ottoman Empire as much as it was exported to Europe.

The Opium Seller (W. Müller) via Wikipedia
Opium Den China via Wikimedia 

In China, opium smoking increased after a Ming emperor banned tobacco smoking.

 By contrast, the Qing dynasty encouraged tobacco smokers to mix in increasing amounts of opium. Tobacco mixed with opium was called madak, or madat, and in the 17th century became popular throughout China and its seafaring trade partners eg Taiwan, Java, and the Philippines.

In 1729, a ban on madak  increased the popularity of smoking pure opium through complicated procedures such as melting opium at the right temperature over the flame of an oil lamp and feeding it via a clay bowl and a bamboo pipe. Paste-scooping, where a globule of opium was scooped up with a needle-like skewer for smoking, was done by servant girls who were also available as prostitutes if needed. People used opium for the 'art of sex' e.g. to "arrest seminal emission".

Opium smoking began in China as a privilege of the elite and remained a great luxury into the early 19th century, but rich peasants also started using opium and even a small village without a rice store would have a shop where opium was sold. In the 19th-century, China's famine, political upheaval, and opportunities for gaining wealth in other countries saw Chinese emigrants moving to San Francisco, London, and New York where they started Chinese traditions of smoking in opium dens.

Opium dens kept a supply of opium paraphernalia, such as the specialized pipes and lamps needed for smoking the drug. 

Patrons reclined to hold long opium pipes over oil lamps that heated the drug until it vaporized, allowing the smoker to inhale the vapors.

French Opium Den via Wikimedia 

There are many old photographs of opium smokers 
in the United States, Canada and France, 
yet none of opium smokers in London. 

Drawing of opium smokers in an opium den in Lo...
Drawing of opium smokers in an opium den in London based on fictional accounts of the day                            (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The London press, along with popular British authors of the day, portrayed London's Limehouse district as an opium-drenched pit of danger and mystery. 

1902 Photograph of opium eaters.
 In fact, London's Chinese population never exceeded the low hundreds, in large contrast to the tens of thousands of Chinese who settled in North American Chinatowns.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) is the autobiographical account of Thomas De Quincey's  laudanum  (opium and alcohol ) addiction and its effect on his life.

Confessions was DeQuincy's  first major published work and won him overnight fame. He wrote, 'I question whether any Turk, of all that ever entered the paradise of opium-eaters, can have had half the pleasure I had.'
Thomas De Quincey from Modern English Books of...
Thomas De Quincey from Modern English Books of Power, by George Hamlin Fitch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First published anonymously in September and October 1821 in the London Magazine,                 the Confessions was released in book form in 1822, and again in 1856, in an edition revised by De Quincey.

During the 18th century and well into the 19th century, opium, as Tincture of Laudanum, was used as a remedy for nervous disorders and, because of its sedative and tranquilizing properties, added to many patent medicines.

It stopped irritation, helped patients sleep, stopped excessive secretions, and relieved pain, so it is no wonder users labeled opium 'God's Own Medicine'. US president William Henry Harrison was treated with opium in 1841, and in the American Civil War, the Union Army used 2.8 million ounces of opium tincture and powder and about 500,000 opium pills.

Literary references to opium smoking in London -
Sherlock Holmes in "The Man with the Twis...
Sherlock Holmes in "The Man with the Twisted Lip". Original caption was "The pipe was still between his lips." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suzi Love is the author of The Viscount's Pleasure House from Crimson Romance
Available at  - Amazon  -  B&N  -  iTunes
Or read a blurb at Goodreads

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Maggi Andersen said...

Interesting article, Suzi, thanks. I watched Edwin Drood the other night. Those dens were quite shocking. There's the suggestion in Austen's Mansfield Park that Lady Bertram, a neurotic hypochondriac doses herself liberally with Laudanum.

Marianne Theresa said...

Amazing what lies behind these remedies of old?
And where would medicine be today if most of them had never been traded, smuggled or introduced?
Thanks Suzi :)

Venetia said...

Wow, so much story material there, Suzi. Great stuff! I was particularly interested in the notion that opium might have been available to medieval Europeans via Constantinople. Hmm, I can feel a story coming on already ...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone. Glad you enjoyed the history of opium. I had always assumed that opium dens were thick on the ground in London, especially being a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and hadn't realized there were more in San Francisco etc than London.

And yes, soooo much story material.
Suzi Love

Allison Butler said...

Hi Suzi,

What an interesting history Opium has. Thanks for another fascinating post:)